Russia Outlaws "Undesirable" Union Over its Support for Ukraine

ITF representatives at a solidarity meeting in Ukraine, Jan. 2023 (ITF)

Published Sep 7, 2023 8:31 PM by The Maritime Executive

Russia's top prosecutors' office has decided that the International Transport Workers' Federation's is an "undesirable organization" in the Russian Federation, based on ITF's longstanding support for Ukraine.

"By its activities, the foreign international non-governmental organization International Transport Workers Federation poses a threat to the constitutional order of the Russian Federation," claimed the Prosecutor General's Office in a statement. 

The designation makes it legally difficult for an organization to continue operating in Russia, and it applies to ITF affiliates, including the Russian seafarers' union SUR. The SUR represents about 77,000 seafarers throughout Russia and has been an ITF affiliate since 1993. It has ITF-approved contracts on about 400 ships.

Russian prosecutors pointed to the ITF's opposition to the invasion of Ukraine, which is illegal to oppose under Russian law. Shortly after the Russian invasion began, the ITF-affliated dockers' union Unite announced its refusal to work Russia-linked vessels at British ports. The MUA, ITF's powerful Australian affiliate, advocated for governments to apply economic pressure to Russia in order to bring an end to the war. This is unlawful under Russian bans on statements “discrediting Russian armed forces."

“Workers around the world are defiant in opposition to Russia’s invasion including thousands of dock workers showing solidarity with the people of the Ukraine and contempt for Putin’s aggression," said ITF President and Dockers’ Section Chair Paddy Crumlin in a statement last year. “We are witnessing indiscriminate attacks on civilian and commercial infrastructure by the Russian forces. The situation is dire. Our hearts go out to the people of the Ukraine. We condemned this war and continue to call on all parties to seek peaceful solutions immediately.”

ITF joins a list of high-profile groups on Russia's "undesirable organization" list, like Memorial, the Russian NGO dedicated to the remembrance of communist purges; independent news channel TV Rain; Human Rights Watch; Amnesty International; the Marshall Fund; the Atlantic Council; Chatham House; and Greenpeace, among others. 

The designation means that ITF affiliates will not be able to hold public meetings, distribute promotional materials, or advertise through the media within Russia. They will be cut off from the Russian banking system, and may be forced to disband.

Maintaining connections with an "undesirable" organization can carry a penalty of up to six years in Russian prison.